If I were a carpenter would I manage time any better?

October 6, 2009

“The desk is a void in space which others try to fill. Fight them.”          Jolyon Firth  

Jolyon Firth, an Auckland City Councillor a generation ago, was not talking of the desktop as we now know it, Jim.  But the principles of time management remain the same. Clutter kills creativity and the urgent drives out the important.

 At times we have to simplify the chess game of life and exchange complexity for a simpler strategy.

We have in our offices in inner city Christchurch any number of filing cabinets,  filling in space that in a digital age could be liberated. I know what you are thinking: why not biff the whole office in this mobile world and be done with it?

Personally I like the mix of my place and my space. Like many of us, when on the go or at home my laptop, plus wifi, is my main office tool.  But in this highly mobile workd it’s good to have a physical headquarters away from home, even if more and more computer services are hosted in the Cloud.

(Send in the clouds, I say.  I love  having my head up there every so often, instead of always having to be  down to earth and mundane).

 The digital divide of a decade ago has become the digital dividend. As well as all the other dimensions of cyberspace,  digital filing is a great boon, though people who insist on the belt and braces support of printed copies of  everything can still get caught with their trousers down if they lack information navigation skills.

I have learnt to be less analoguely retentive, but I still need to print some key documents and gather clippings, hand written notes and Post Its into working files.

But how do I  quickly grab the physical files when needed and avoid clutter in the meantime?

 I sit at on the flight deck of my business at my twin computer workstations, in an L shape, at the top left hand corner of the Boardroom, facing the door like Billy the Kid, but able at one quick swivel to take in the view across to the Avon River.

I need the two workstations. How the array of digital devices has grown in the last decade! Mine include the Laptop docking station, data projector, vid cam, voice–activated dictation cradle and headpiece, conventional dictaphone, both wired and mobile phones, PDA and sundry other plug-ins and pull-outs, not to mention remotes for the sound system, data show, laptop and aircon.  Am I a remote person?

There are also handy Chinese stress balls and a mock turtle, to remind me that you only move forward when you stick your neck out. My neck’s been a bit sore lately.

Most of the stuff is portable, but I leave the stress balls and the turtle behind when working out of the office. Maybe I should take the stress balls. 

But I don’t always want to be left to my own devices. The problem is that there is  no filing cabinet or other storage space is within arm’s reach, from which I  can quickly grab a working file-often with scribbles and visuals-when required. There they are, on the periphery, quietly producing nicely matured compost. 

 I don’t use a smaller office, though we have some spare space. Instead I insist on having my personal office space in the far end of what some might describe unkindly, as a spare boardroom. (We don’t even have a board: we are a small hub at the centre of two large networks).

This does have some advantage: with groups of people I can glide from my workstation to around the board table, with the data show in situ, and my finger on the remote. (#Did you know that Powerpoint has a simple go to black/go to presentation function- the B key on your keyboard. No capping the lens, or firing up the datashow while people are waiting expectantly-just one click in the key of B! No one but me seems to use this. Great not just for an impactful start but for giving the audience a visual break or switching from input to discussion).

Alternatively, I can invite single guests  (you know what I mean) to rollercoaster their boardroom chair to my L-shaped workstation, where I can use the laptop presentationally sans data projector and then return to a tête-à-tête around the table.

With some big events coming up, including our third annual Education Leaders Forum in Rotorua next week, I decided last Thursday to shift current, but less important files off my twin desks and make Jolyon Firth jolly. Clutter expands to fill the space available for it. The principle  of out of sight, out of mind, may not cure procrastination but it does aid focus and reduce guilt. (“I’m going to give up procrastination…tomorrow”).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m only talking a dozen working files, not as in some lawyer’s offices, every mortgage ever transacted since the Magna Carta. I’m also talking office paraphenalia-stationary items, knicknacks, dodads, gizmos as well as bottle openers and cork screws (not that there’s much call for the latter nowadays).

(Hold in your mind this reference to tools. We are a tool using people, even if the relevant evolutionary gene has passed some of us by on its way out of Africa.  On the evolution front the Lukeys would be scorned by the Leakeys).

 I set a time-bound goal to clear the decks and batten the hatches. I made a bee-line for The Warehouse in Blenheim Road after work the very next day, the auspicious 1 October. What they say is true! I got a very timely bargain at the Big Red Shed ($49.9+gst instead of the usual  $69.99+), made in China, on the very day of the main celebrations of The People’s Republic of China’s 60th.  See my blog https://lukeytraining.wordpress.com/2009/10/01/china-6oth-anniversary/  .

There it was on display. The answer to my fond imaginings. Precisely the right dimensions. (For once I’d taken a measured approach to this project). It was truly an answer from the Chinese Branch Office of Hampton Furniture Solutions: a chocolate 3 drawer cabinet, complete with silver (well not quite silver) handles, designated ©model F8303C   9401047653036.

The one downside was that I couldn’t walk out with the assembled  display model, even for full price. But this was a mere cavil.  At the risk of being derrided* I’m as interested in deconstructions of architecture and office furniture as the next person and even more so in reconstructions, especially in the case in hand.

Model F8303C   9401047653036 is constructed mainly out of particle board. It didn’t quite fit the carefully nurtured corporate image of the international HQ of Lukey Resources and SmartNet. But it didn’t have to be top shelf. It was going to slide neatly out of sight, out of mind, with my working files inside, my sound system on top, all within a swivel and an arm’s reach, under one of my twin work stations  in the corner.

The suspicious weight of the self-assembly kit should have alerted me as I lugged it to Check-out. The particles in the medium particle board must have been whizzing around at a more than usually excitable rate. I really should have checked it out there and then.

At first sight it had all looked comparatively, if not dead, easy. I just had to “clean use soft dry cloth, avoid detergent or chemical, avoid contact with water and directsunlight and assemble it on a soft, dry, clean, and smooth surface.”

But at the office next day, as soon as the catalogue, with incomprehensible assembly instructions, was out of the box my creative thinking suddenly wasn’t. Where the hell did I start and did I really want to.  My first attempt at a 3D working model, to work out the configuration, collapsed like a house of cards (not that this preview was part of the instructions).

I  should have known better than to attempt such a project. By the age of 11 I had already defined myself as being a nail or two short in the construction department.  This learned helplessness  took a quantum leap at Woodwork classes at Oxford District High School  in 1952. I had to make a nugget box and all I made was a misshapen receptacle, definitely lacking any polish, which I abandoned as a work in progress.  

It became such a big deal that I was conveniently ill three Wednesdays in a row so that I missed the school bus from Coopers Creek to Oxford and didn’t have to confront the sorry results of my unskilled labour.

In a word, I had removed the try from carpentry. If confidence and competence are mutually reinforcing; so are lack of confidence and lack of competence.

Back to the task in hand. I slit open the belly of the box and tipped out the contents. It was like a jigsaw puzzle without a picture. My heart sank. I found the big picture later, on the outside of the disembowled box, which I’d  manage to cover up. All I could see now were small and complex diagrams inside with ominous instructions.

There were 2 pieces of particle board, of varying shapes and sizes, some numbered and some not. The Da Vinci Code was looking a pushover by comparison.

There were 150 odd various items in 12 configurations, from a flat top screw to a plastic leg stud and even a moon shaped handle. Also required were at least 5 different kinds of screwdrivers.

In a mild panic of not seeing which connected to what and how—I had a revealing insight. Ok-I’d only paid $49.99+gst for the bits and pieces, but now I had to factor in the value of my own time.  This was a classic case of Gresham’s Law being applied to time management: bad use of time drives out good.

I put it all back inside the box-to hell with all this thinking outside it- photocopied the now tattered instructions sheet, scooped up all the screws and nails into a new plastic bag and re-taped the box very firmly. Then I applied the same zeal to the items I’d wanted to store. I  biffed most, kept some and used the items of office furniture I had already invested years ago more efficiently to shift the stuff from the top, visible plane to subterranean planes-a sort of reversal of Plato’s Parable of the Cave.

As I left my office, once more en route to the Big Red Shed, the bright light ouside my office cave was clearer and my visual acuity unsurpased.

I returned the box of parts to the Warehouse, where people sometimes get more than they’ve bargained for, with my shoulders back and my eyes avoiding no one, (certainly not any lurking DIYers, with contempt in their eyes as they eyed the failed project I was returning.)

At the Warehouse’s stock exchange I didn’t get to ring the bell but managed to get credit where credit is due, despite not being able to locate the receipt which I knew I’d put in the front pocket of my jeans. (The receipt appeared magically at my next stop, at a Shell service station when I pulled out my handkerchief. The shell game of life).

I walked out, not with the cash, for which I needed the missing receipt, but a credit note. I exited into the sunset glare of a Canterbury Nor’wester. It would have warmed the most wooden heart. Such a feeling was coming over me.  I felt on top of the world- as if I’d only just begun.


Bobby Darin “If I Were A Carpenter” Live 1973 

If I Had A Hammer Peter,Paul & Mary(Mary Travers died on 16 September, 2009 of leukemia at the age of 72).

Elvis – Wooden Heart

The Carpenters – Top Of The World

Barbra Streisand – Send in the clowns – 2000  Clowns operate outside the rules of ordinary societal limitations to mock both the sacred and the profane.

Jacques Derrida  Not a well-known French cabaret singer.


#Lyall Lukey 6 October 2009   http://www.lukey.co.nz/  http://www.smartnet.co.nz